Sep 5, 2022Liked by Arnold Kling

‘ I wonder why this is happening.’ Because when the Government frightens the population to believe they are a health risk to each other, when you close down medical facilities including blood donation centres, when people are afraid to mix with others and masks and vaccination are mandated when they reopen to reaffirm the risk we are to one another, and the drum-beat of never-ending pandemic is kept up - people stay away. That’s why.

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Sep 5, 2022Liked by Arnold Kling

I agree with this sentiment and have been incredibly frustrated with this phenomenon in a vague sense for several decades. I think the first time I heard the phrase “raise awareness”, it set off alarm bells similar to “hate crime”, (separate post). “We’re going to have a walkathon to raise awareness for homeless people!” How about making some sandwiches and passing them out under a bridge? How about volunteering at a soup kitchen and getting your hands dirty? We’re all aware of the issues - you just don’t want to do real, hard work on them. How much did it cost to rent the track, rent the sound system, pay the DJ, buy the bottled water, etc… for your walkathon? You are actually throwing a party for yuppie moms instead of serving the homeless. That’s drift. I guess now we just skip the walkathon and do some hashtags. Just as effective, but lazier.

For your contribution to be most effective, it has to contain real sacrifice as close to the problem as physically possible. #proofofwork

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A lot of institutions are going to have a hard time as the old set dies off. The Catholic Church for one. Based on my observation IRL community will be hit hardest, retired people largely hold these things together.

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Post theistic society is a culture of virtue signals, not acts. The pure moral act is the one that does not seek any entitlement. Nevertheless, acts of kindness that seek entitlement as a kind of extra gift for doing something good are still acts of kindness. Signals have no redeeming value whatever. They are pure sham.

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I guess I'll chime in as a regular blood donator. I don't do it for charitable reasons, but for the health benefits. I'm always the youngest guy there besides the nurses by about 20-40 years. It's always in my parish basement, but the people who donate are from all over, just they all tend to be old. It seems to me, at least from a religious perspective, that it's not really that charitable to give blood because it's not really conditioned on achieving any especially virtuous goal. As in, my blood may be as likely to go to someone who was just in a mutual exchange of gunfire as it is going to go to some near-saint who was in a car accident.

In terms of the younger generation and their relationship to virtue, I think that you see this misapprehension of virtue with virtue signaling in secular culture all the time. Ayn Rand sharply criticized the "altruism" of Christians as irrational and a waste of material resources, which it in fact is in a narrow material sense. It only really makes sense in the context of religious metaphysics, and if you believe in those metaphysics, it's not really altruism: by tending to your soul and the souls of others, you are just obeying God, and God will reward you personally for your obedience with greater compensation than anyone in this world can ever give you. This is something you see through most religions, and receives a full articulation even in Plato's Republic, which tries to clinch the argument for personal virtue with the recounting of a divine messenger explicating the immortality of the soul and the reality of divine judgment.

But contemporary secular groups cargo cult religious charity as altruism, seeking mostly to glean the good "optics" of religion that derives from charitable works while shaving off the part that motivates charitable behavior, which is not actually altruistic -- at best, you could describe it as community-minded, but even then the factor which motivates it is not in fact selflessness. From my experience in both secular and religious communities, the secular have proportionally more problems with just living a simple virtuous life, and they are more apt to stab you in the back for no reason at all, whereas that kind of behavior just wouldn't really occur to your average churchgoer. I'm not saying all religious people are good people or that there aren't a lot of obnoxious Catholic virtue-signalers, it's just proportionally, they have seemed less backstabby or double-sided than secular types. Secular virtue-signalers tend to have absorbed the argument against virtue articulated in the early parts of the Republic, which says that it is best to appear virtuous while behaving viciously, which is indeed an unassailable argument within the secular frame.

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Sep 5, 2022·edited Sep 5, 2022

"you should get moral entitlement from doing something good, not from announcing that you favor some righteous cause. Or preening about effective altruism."

So very true.

But the takeover of the academy by high IQ (=high SAT scoring) intellectuals has gone along with the equation of IQ superiority = moral superiority, and the fight for the "moral high ground" is never ending.

Many studies show that conservatives donate more than do liberals - but liberals claim higher morality for the intention to have gov't force the good result. The moral superiority of intention rather than the real results has led to higher status for signaling over accomplishment.

I often donated blood, over 4 gallons - for awhile in Silicon Valley, blood donors could get broken Mrs. Field's chocolate chip cookies (which SHE had donated) for a donation.

Still Scott is basically right, and even agrees with Arnold about "doing something good":

"Is there some more systematic way to commit yourself to some amount between 0% and 100% of your effort (traditionally 10%)? And once you’ve done that, how do you make those resources go as far as possible? This is effective altruism, the rest is just commentary. ... lots of commentary"

Totally undiscussed is the social benefit, and costs, of raising children. Consider 3 sets of 4 grandparents (two pairs):

1) two pairs with one child each, who marries a single child and have a single grandkid. 4 > 2 > 1;

2) with 2 kids each, and all 4 marry each other with 2 kids / 4 grandkids. 4 > 4 > 4;

3) with 3 kids each, and all 6 marry each other with 3 kids/ 6 grandkids. 4 > 6 > 9.

For society, having (good) kids is hugely beneficial. Yet very costly, too. The pairs having 3 kids do a lot more work than those having only 1 child. So donating your life to helping the new, young, lives of your own kids should be part of "effective altruism", and is among the most effective when parenting is successful at making a good citizen. The cost of raising a kid might be $50k, $100k, or $200,000 or more (or less), but to many parents they already give almost all they have to their own kids. Which is the most primitive altruism, but it's still very much not "selfish".

Still, I'd guess that families with more kids also donate more money to charity more often. Sort of those too selfish to sacrifice their own desires for kids are not so generous to any charities, tho based on resources one would think it should be the reverse.

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I'd like to see the economists I admire take a closer look at the not-for-profit Red Cross and the whole blood procurement and distribution system. Hospitals buy blood and blood products from the Red Cross. When I worked in hospital administration, I saw my hospital shut down its own cheap and efficient blood bank in order to buy from the Red Cross - a decision that was never satisfactorily explained to me.

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I was a regular blood donor but stopped making the effort roughly a decade ago. Two things turned me off. One was the screening process. It kept getting more extensive and personal. I understand the desire to filter out those who could have contaminated blood. I guess I tired of the interrogation.

The more important factor was I realized blood drives are a money making activity that incorporates volunteers. I suppose this is the case with many"charitable" efforts. In the instance of blood drives and the Red Cross, the veneer got too thin and I decided I didn't want to play along anymore with the charade.

The odd thing is plasma centers pay people for donations. If human blood is valuable, than why not pay for blood donations? Why pretend it is charity?

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Re your hypothesis, there's data on this, which may inspire you to revise your (rather uncharitable) assumptions about the moral sensibilities of the young whippersnappers.

From Patel et al (2019). Transfusion. Sep;59(9):2899-2907:

"The percentage of individuals reporting a history of blood donation in the past 12 months varied significantly by age group; prevalence was highest in the 18–24 year old age group (8.4%) and lowest in the age group ≥70 years (1.9%; p<0.001)."

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Well, the city is Vampire Central.

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Though I agree with the thrust of your comments it does bring a couple of thoughts to mind.

The COVID disruption might have broken a lot of people's habits, and they haven't reformed a new one. Various COVID protocols, to the extent they are still in place (the last time I donated masks and temperature checks had been dropped) increase the hassle factor and might discourage some people.

At least in my area, blood drives were often structured around workplaces. WIth more and more WFH that supply of ready clients is less available. The local Red Cross here seems to be having a bit of an issue adjusting to that and finding different drive sponsors (churches seem to be becoming popular). I have also heard there is a significant shortage of phlebotomists, as with many health care professionals, and staffing temporary donation locations is an issue.

Those of us of a certain age also need to recognize that there is a noticeable drop in the number of people in the 40-54 age bracket (the GenX birth dearth) before a bump up in the 25-39 bracket (the Millenial boomlet). The 65+ age bracket has been growing in size for a decade, and probably will continue to enlarge for another decade. Part of the reason you aren't seeing younger people is that they just aren't there.


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"I think that one of the assumptions that you are hiding is the assumption that charitable donations do more long-term good than market investment."

I don't see where he makes this assumption. Charitable donations encouraged by EA, for one thing, are probably mostly a substitute for consumption by the donor rather than investment. Moreover, inasmuch as it's true that markets generally work better than charity - and I'm sure it is - doesn't that vindicate the project of EA to make charity more effective? I suppose you could argue that it's an impossible project and that effective altruists should just donate their money to Amazon, but that'd still be effective altruism as far as I can tell.

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Re your exchange with Ash Lael on Astral Codex: I'm going to keep trying to make the kind of point I always try to make about your EA criticism. I'm genuinely curious what you'd say about the details that seem very relevant here.

You say to Lael: "it's hard to know what works best on the margin. But I think that because charities are not accountable to their intended beneficiaries, this reduces the chance that on the margin they are the right place to invest you money"

Yes, that's right. But there is a countervailing consideration: if a charity helps out the people with the least resources, that increases the chance that on the margin it is the right place to invest (because of diminishing marginal returns).

So there is a trade-off here. There is no way in practice to make an institution accountable to people with very few resources--it's almost a tautology that you can't do that, because without appreciable resources they have no way to give others significant incentives. So one consideration (diminishing marginal returns) counts in favor of charitable giving to those living in extreme absolute poverty, and another consideration (accountability to the beneficiaries) counts against.

Why do you think it's clear that the accountability consideration outweighs the diminishing returns consideration? Especially when the diminishing returns consideration is an *orders of magnitude* difference (like, a middle-class American ending up with $1 in marginal benefit is so, so much different than a destitute Pakistani receiving the same benefit that the mind boggles).

Suppose we throw up our hands and say we can't tell which is better. Well then, there is a lot more money being invested in for-profit enterprise than there is in charitable giving to the least fortunate. Which is more likely to have some low-hanging fruit available?

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I am barred from donating blood in the US. The medical system here believes my blood is unclean due to my being from Europe - yes, being from Europe is in some age brackets an automatic exclusion criterion for blood donation!

But blood donation is presumably a very healthy activity - it allows you to eliminate chronic iron overload which afflicts almost all men and many postmenopausal women, as evidenced by elevated levels of ferritin in these groups, which in turn is associated with increased risk of diabetes and hypertension, even if you do not have hemochromatosis. There are published interventional studies of therapeutic phlebotomy in men which showed a reduction in all cause mortality, so it seems that bleeding from time to time is good for you.

But what to do if your blood is unclean? I get regular phlebotomies twice a year based on the diagnosis of chronic iron overload. The blood, which is actually perfectly fine, gets discarded but at least I get to reduce my ferritin levels and my risk of disease.

Moloch needs blood sacrifices.

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I'm an Elder Millennial and I used to donate regularly but have largely stopped after COVID.

There seems to be a complete mismatch between professed and revealed need. There were about a dozen instances where I got an email saying "we are in desperate circumstances" but the system didn't have any appointments in my area for several weeks.

So it's either a) a technical issue where the slots are open but not bookable, b) I just live in a remarkably generous area where as soon as an email goes out dozens of people sign up in minutes, or c) the blood bank CRM team has realized that desperate appeals have the highest yield and therefore use them all the time.

My guess it's c.

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The statement: "most of human improvement seems to come from profit-seeking investment" appears true and is based upon the "self-interest" of the profit-seeking individuals.

However, the question of what is in a person's "self-interest" is a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. Short term "self-interest" of an individual is completely different than medium or long term "self-interest".

Back before we were homo sapiens and our ancestors were upright primates who used stone tools, some dominant "grey-back" ancestor encountered a stranger entering his territory who had a rock of obsidian. In the short-term, he and his fellow tribe members could steal the rock and kill the alien (typical behavior of primates). Or, they could steal the rock and let him go. Or they could trade with him for the hunk of obsidian and give him food and, maybe, a bunch of shells the females back home might have found impressive. In that case, the stranger would be more inclined to come back and bring more rock to trade. Our ancestor's short term "self-interest" would be the first option: kill the stranger and steal the obsidian to make better stone tools. His medium term "self-interest" may lie in not killing the stranger and thereby creating an enemy tribe. His long term "self-interest" would be to trade with him food and shells. His own long term "self" interest coincides with the long term interests of the stranger, who returns to his group, charms more females, and passes on his genes. Both sides get the obsidian, can make better tools, get more meat and win the always desirable females. Frequently, "self-interest" is not a zero sum game.

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